Early Intervention Strategies for Success

Sharing What Works in Supporting Infants & Toddlers and the Families in Early Intervention

Early Intervention Strategies for Success, Tips, Insight and Support for EI Practitioners


Have you ever taken a yoga or dance class? If you haven’t, let me tell you about my experiences. In either class, I’ve always foundFeedback myself in a big room in front of wall-sized mirrors facing an instructor. While soft music played, the teacher would call out the names of poses I was supposed to imitate. I’d try my hardest to get my body to cooperate, and found myself struggling with new poses that I’d never done before. I’d do my best to copy the instructor or even the person next to me (while praying I kept my balance). As far as I could tell, I was doing pretty well. It was only when the teacher came over and gently helped me hold my arm in the right position or reminded me to straighten my back that I really knew where I was in space and whether I was doing the pose correctly. With feedback on my performance, I was able to improve on what I was doing. Without feedback, I might have never figured out how to really do a grand plié because watching someone else only went so far. I needed to try the pose out myself, experience it, adapt it to what my muscles could do, and receive feedback from someone who knew about it. That feedback was an integral part of my learning. (Could I do a grand plié now without falling over…well, that’s another story… 🙂 )

Adult Learning Principle #5 – Feedback is How We Grow

Just like with ballet or yoga, adults who are learning something new need feedback on their learning and performance. Feedback is like a barometer we use to help us know whether or not we have understood something accurately or whether we are performing a new skill as intended. Without feedback, we only have our own perspective, which isn’t always accurate. While we may not always like the feedback we receive, we typically crave knowing if we are on the right track.

Feedback can come in different forms. It can be physical, as when a OT uses hand-over-hand guidance to help a father position a child for safe feeding. It is most often verbal, as when the SLP points out that the way the child care provider modeled the sign for “cow” beside the picture of the cow will really help the toddler understand what the sign means. Feedback might only come from the interventionist or from the caregiver, but is often more beneficial when it is a reciprocal, reflective process between both adults.

How Can We Use This Principle?

Ask for permission to provide feedback – As you talk with families about how EI works, encourage them to share their feedback and let them know that you will do the same. When you need to provide feedback, ask for permission first until you have developed a relationship where you can move into feedback easily.

Invite the parent’s feedback first – Ask the parent what she thinks about what she just did with her child – how it felt, what worked, what didn’t work, what she’d like to do next time – before you provide feedback. Inviting her to share first is probably more powerful because it facilitates her own reflection, which we know is so important for adult learning.

Be specific – Always use specific descriptors when sharing feedback. Rather than saying “you did a great job!,” specifically describe what went well and how you know it went well. If the parent’s use of an intervention strategy had a positive effect on the child, first ask the parent what she noticed about the child’s reaction. Then, you can share your observations as feedback; you might say something like “when you supported him at his hips, he was able to bear weight on his flat feet for longer this time.”

Be honest, positive and constructive – Feedback won’t always be an affirmation, but it can still be positive and helpful. Adult learners typically appreciate your honesty, and I think parents are really good at knowing when we aren’t being honest or when we’re uncomfortable. Be mindful of the verbal and body language you use and remember to convey your feedback in a way that supports the parent’s learning. Instead of “You didn’t support his head correctly” you could say “Did you notice how his head feel back? Let’s try again but this time, see if you can pick up him with your hand under his neck to keep his head up.”

Consider Two Examples

During Lacey’s visit, she coaches Michelle in how to help Tommy learn to roll over. She models how to hold a toy just out of Tommy’s reach while moving it around past his ear. She also shows Michelle how to place her hand on Tommy’s hip to guide him in rolling over. She suggests that Michelle watch what Tommy’s body does and how he shifts his weight during rolling. When it’s Michelle’s turn, Lacey notices that Michelle moves the toy very quickly and helps Tommy roll so much that he really doesn’t have to work at all.

Example #1: Lacey tells Michelle, “You really need to move the toy slower and let him help you with rolling. Let me show you again.” Lacey models again hoping Michelle will see how to do it this time. Michelle feels like Lacey thinks she isn’t listening or watching but she is.

Example #2: Before providing feedback, Lacey wants to see what Michelle thinks so she asks “How did you think that went?” Michelle responds that she thinks she did everything a little too fast because Tommy didn’t roll on his own at all. She wants to try again but isn’t sure how slow to go. Lacey said that she noticed the same thing. Michelle tries again and says that it’s too hard to move the toy and move Tommy’s hip at the same time. Lacey asks her which one she’s like to learn to do first. Since Michelle wants to learn to move Tommy’s hip, Lacey offers to move the toy. They work together, going slowly, until Michelle gets the hang of how to help Tommy move. Once she’s got it, she tries to move the toy too and gets excited when he rolls onto his belly for her.

When you use coaching, action/practice, reflection, and feedback are all often intertwined. When you share feedback, it’s often a means of sharing your expertise and facilitating reflection while wrapping it around the current practice activity. On your next visit, pay attention to how you share feedback and how the caregiver receives it. Also, reflect on how you receive the caregiver’s feedback – are you open to feedback about the strategies you suggest? Remember that feedback helps all of us grow so how you share it – and how you receive it – really matter!

As you can see in Example #2, Lacey welcomed Michelle’s feedback and made it safe for her to share her perspective. Lacey also responded to Michelle’s feedback by making it “okay” that she learn each step separately. Lacey didn’t have to share much direct feedback in this example because Michelle’s reflection did that for her.

Had Michelle not noticed that she was going too fast, what could Lacey do? How could she have shared feedback in a positive, constructive manner?

Don’t miss the rest of the posts in this series:

Adult Learning Principle #1: Making Intervention Immediately Relevant

Adult Learning Principle #2: Linking New Learning to Prior Knowledge

Adult Learning Principle #3: Active Practice and Participation are Key!

Adult Learning Principle #4: Practicing Intervention Strategies in Real-Time

6 comments on “Adult Learning Principle #5 – Feedback is How We Grow

  • Nathan Travis says:

    Great post!
    I will try to work this into practice BIG TIME this week!
    I have neglected (or just have plain forgotten!) how useful, critical and helpful feedback is w/parents. I don’t even think I ask them about feedback in this deep and broad manner, it’s really quick most of the time. Feedback is a “button” word as far as I am concerned. It will now become a part of my daily working lexicon and should really open up some new conversations for my families and me as the provider. Thanks Dana! Awesome description of the yoga posing too! Arrrrgggh! So tough to balance!


    • That’s awesome, Nathan! I really do hope you’ll let me know how this works for you. I’d love to know how this (or if this) changes what YOU do on a visit, especially as it relates to your coaching. I think it matches up so well with the feedback and reflection aspects of coaching and I know you’re doing such a great job with that. Keep me posted!

  • Tracy Archipley says:

    Thank you so much. I feel very comfortable engaging with children, and I am aware that my understanding about coaching is way behind. Not only do your suggestions make sense, but the way that you’ve written this article reflected your teaching, giving the idea, why and examples. Makes sense and maybe I can learn to coach parents after all. Tele-practice has been pretty overwhelming for me, as I know for some others, as I try to figure out how to provide effective therapy. I see it can be a great opportunity to empower the caregivers.

    Thank you again.

    • Good for you, Tracy, for being open to the opportunity. I think the switch has been overwhelming for many practitioners. You really do have to develop and use coaching skills to provide tele-intervention. Keep working at it!

  • Michelle says:

    You could restate the question and ask if she would like to try again.
    I liked how you positioned your hands. Let’s try this…to see if you can get him to control the rolling more with no so much help from you.


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